Disbanding a Homeless Encampment 101: These Are People

(CHELSEA NOW) John Mudd, August 29, 2017 — There is no avoiding them. Whether you’re bustling through the city or enjoying a leisurely Sunday, you are bound to step over one. You could simply shrug them off. You could eek out a pitiful sigh and turn away, uncomfortable with their discomfort. You could get offended by their odor and feel trespassed against by their pleas.

What if we took away “them” and put a name to a face? Imagine this person as a brother, a sister, or even yourself. Impossible? Never wanted to throw in the towel or think of yourself hanging on the fringe of society?

How about you give the next homeless person you see squatting on the sidewalk a story.

How long have they been on the streets? How did they get there? Are they addicted? What is their poison: alcohol, prescription meds, drugs? Are they depressed, schizophrenic? Did they have too many hard knocks or just one powerful sucker punch that put them down for the count? Now, is it harder to be egregiously affected or easier to empathize? I wrestle less with this dichotomy; even as I watch them sit in their chronic state, unbathed and stewing in the worst of odors. Empathy has won over annoyance.

Living in the tourist-saturated midtown of Manhattan for over 30 years, the homeless cannot be ignored — you see them often enough, and they find their place into your subconscious. I have had the luxury of knowing some of their real stories, rather than the imagined ones. While walking past a camp under a scaffold stretching the length of a 40-foot construction site everyday, I became privy to the boasts, plans, and world views of some of its inhabitants: Paul Bright, Donald Cook, Gerard, Chris, Michelle, Mr. Y, Mr. X, and others. I’ve seen them during alcohol-fueled belligerent tirades. I’ve seen them literally air their dirty laundry using the metal crossbars that anchor the scaffold together as a clothesline. I’ve seen their collection of treasured items on full display under the distressed tree that sprouts through the scaffold’s roof.

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